Visual Arts

Phoenix Artist Ann Morton on Engaging Communities Through Textiles

What happens in the studio shouldn’t always stay in the studio. Studio Visit Q+A is a weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This week: Phoenix artist Ann Morton.

Ann Morton’s work often combines the delicate yet utilitarian aspects of fiber art with art actions that engage the community at large. Morton uses this community engagement to bring attention to those on the margins. Currently, she is working on a new work called What Happened Today? that will debut at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in Texas in September. New Times chatted with Morton in her home studio about this new project and the relationship between fiber art and social practice.

Morton’s no stranger to projects that require many hands. In December 2013, Ground Cover, a 117-foot-by-50-foot blanket made up of smaller individual blankets produced by makers around the country, debuted in a vacant lot on First and McKinley streets in downtown Phoenix. The blankets were then given to local agencies for distribution to homeless individuals during the winter months.

The work in Morton’s upcoming exhibition in Houston will be the result of a several-months-long engagement with the local community. At least once a month since February, The Houston Chronicle has published an interactive ad for the exhibition for readers to write what happened that day. This interactive component can also be accessed online and around Houston at various sites.

With these journal entries of sorts, Morton is producing a large textile that extends onto the floor. This textile will be paired with a rug made out of shredded issues of The Houston Chronicle. The modules making up this rug are being produced by Morton herself and by local groups in Houston. The wall textile and the rug will coalesce, feeding into one another. Everyday events will be rendered visible, while events fit for print will function like static or noise.

“I tend to think in terms of modules a lot,” Morton says. “One of the qualities of fibers is accretion, like one stitch after the other or weaving. You’re just building tiny parts to make a big thing. The social practice that I do kind of does the same thing, using lots of hands to create this whole piece.”

Even though this project mostly involves the community of Houston, Morton hopes to eventually exhibit the work here in Phoenix. The submitted entries are intriguing objects themselves. Some are funny or profound, while others are as mundane as it can get. One man who is currently incarcerated is even using the project to journal each day, which is something that Morton hoped for with the project. No matter what, Morton is treating each of these moments as relics. 

Tell us about your work in haiku format.
Social paradigms
A call to make art actions
Using many hands

What artist(s) are you really into right now?
So many, but at few on my immediate radar are:
El Anatsui, Superflex, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Tilleke Schwarz, Michael Rakowitz, Santiago Sierra, Ai Weiwei, Annette Messager, Sol Lewitt, Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker, Alighiero e Boetti — ok, stop me, please.

What are you reading?
I’m not the best and most avid reader, but this is what is on my bed stand, and I alternate:
Naomi Klein - This Changes Everything, Alice Munro - lots of assorted short stories, Tina Fey - Bossypants, Robert Okin, M.D. - Silent Voices, People with Mental Disorders on the Street, and Huckleberry Finn.

What’s the last TV show, film or video you watched?
Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road – delicious design and details!
TV Show: Call the Midwife – BBC series on Netflix
Video: A video of Jim Carrey giving the commencement speech at Maharishi University

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I spent most of my adult career collaborating in my design practice, so I’m picky about collaborations, and besides I’m easily intimidated by well-known artists. I’d love to do a round robin – passing a set of objects around four to five artists to build upon. This would be fun with my co-ex-grads from ASU, Brooke Heuts, Kelsey Wiskirchen, and Elise Deringer.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it?
I just got back from San Diego where I went expressly to see the El Anatsui exhibition "Gravity and Grace" at the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego. It was magnificent – like looking at the Grand Canyon – it was hard to take in the sheer immensity of it. I found myself focusing in on the details, then standing back to appreciate the entirety of the work.

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramovic and why?
Got to be Marina Abromovic (although I always get tongue tied on her last name). She is so brilliant at tapping into the current of emotions we all share. Her works, The Artist is Present, and her early work Imponderabilia are my favorites. Stunning and profound!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
All you really have is your word.

What are you currently working on?
I’m getting ready for a show at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft which opens on September 18th. My work from the Collective Cover Project will show, but also a new social work called What Happened Today? which involves putting together thousands of components made by the citizens of Houston.

What’s your most valued tool as an artist?
Faith. (not religious, just faith in myself and the universe’s desire for good things)

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Mikey Estes
Contact: Mikey Estes